Spotlight on Research!

Shenandoah University Research


2017 Research

Research Question: Does engagement in hippotherapy improve postural control and handwriting legibility in children with ASD?

Research Description: The Central Nervous System (CNS) of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder can become disorganized, which can affect their social, emotional, communication, and language functions. Hippotherapy can help a client’s CNS become more organized through its repetitive and rhythmic nature, increasing the effectiveness of these functions.

Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)  exhibit difficulty with handwriting legibility. According to Scordella et. al (2015), 37% of elementary school-aged children struggle with handwriting legibility. Studies have shown that elementary school teachers attribute poor handwriting to poor postural control. Postural control not only affects handwriting, but it impacts all aspects of occupation. Many intervention approaches exist to assist in improving postural control. Hippotherapy is one intervention for improving postural control. While literature shows a link between involvement in hippotherapy and increased postural control in the population of children with Cerebral Palsy (Zadnikar & Kastrin, 2011), there is no research on hippotherapy as an intervention for postural control in children with ASD.

Subjects will partake in four hippotherapy sessions held once a week for approximately one hour at Ride-on-Ranch in Lovettsville, VA.  Subjects will be asked to commit to the schedule created by the student researchers on March 19, 26 and April 2 and 9th, 2016.  The sessions will consist of subjects performing distinct tasks affiliated with gross and fine motor testing and development.  This will be supervised by research coordinator and instructor, Autumn O’Hara and conducted by student researchers.  The instructor approved activities devised by the student researchers.

In total 10 subjects will be chosen for this study once completed application and inclusion eligibility have been determined.  Treatment sessions will consist of one to three subjects per session.  Each session will be 45 minutes in length but may vary based on the introduction of study, cooperation of horse and client, testing duration, and transfers for up to four separate sessions per client.  The treatment sessions will include up to three riders per 45 minute intervals.  The subject’s times will be staggered every 15 minutes so that proper instruction of testing items may be provided from researchers.  For example, subject 1 will start at 1:00 pm and end at 1:45pm, subsequently another subject will begin at 1:15 pm and end at 2:00 pm, then another subject will start at 1:30 pm and end at 2:15 pm and so on until all 10 subjects have been tested.

Certified Therapeutic Riding instructors or certified volunteers will aid in transferring the client on and off of the horse.  If the subject at any time feels uncomfortable or chooses  not to participate they can stop at any time, it is their responsibility to notify the volunteers or instructor that they would like to stop and the instructor or volunteer will transfer the subject off of the horse.

Quantitative data will be collected before and after individual treatment sessions with each subject via a pre and post-test using both standardized and nonstandardized assessments such as the Minnesota Handwriting Assessment (MHA) and the Nintendo Wii™

Balance Board (NWBB) A student researcher, to establish a baseline for handwriting skill, will conduct the MHA to a subject before hippotherapy intervention.  The subject will then participate in a virtual reality simulation to establish a quantitative baseline measurement of balance using the NWBB with a student researcher. The pre and post-test will be video recorded and results will be translated by a researcher to a spreadsheet in order to ensure accurate records. The subject will then participate in a hippotherapy session with the horse and certified volunteers.  Post-test data will then be gathered after the intervention.  The subject will participate in a virtual reality simulation via NWBB to establish post intervention effects on balance.  Quantitative data will be gathered via gaming report.  Data on handwriting performance will then be measured by having the subject complete the MHA again to identify post intervention changes in gross and fine motor performance.
Raw data will be converted to analyzable data via SPSS or Excel application using descriptive statistics such as ANOVA or T-Tests.  Security of all analyzable data will be kept under locked files on a blind researchers’ computer. Upon analyzing data, researchers will randomly sort client’s performance on MHA and NWBB via a random number generator found online to decrease researcher biases.  

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